At least 20 Hong Kong lawmakers, the city’s police chief and several other senior officials are being sent to centralized quarantine after attending a birthday party on Monday, in an embarrassing political and public health headache for the city’s already deeply unpopular government.
In all, around 170 people — all the guests at the party, as well as their close contacts — are to be sent to a centralized quarantine facility, city officials announced on Friday, after two people who attended tested positive for the coronavirus. Already, around 60 people have been sent to Penny’s Bay, a facility of shipping-container-like dormitories on an outlying island.
The revelation came as Hong Kong, which had gone months without any local transmission, prepares for a new outbreak linked to the Omicron variant. And it followed vigorous calls from the government — which has imposed some of the harshest quarantine and social distancing measures in the world — for residents to avoid public gatherings.
The party, at a Spanish tapas restaurant, was for Witman Hung, a local delegate to the Chinese national legislature. Attendees included Caspar Tsui, the city’s home affairs secretary; Raymond Siu, the police commissioner; Au Ka-wang, the immigration director; and 20 lawmakers, who were sworn in this week for a new term.
At least one of those lawmakers, Junius Ho, also traveled to Shenzhen two days after the party to meet with a top Chinese government official.
At a news conference on Thursday after news of the party emerged, Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, said she was “very disappointed” in the government officials. Several of them have also issued apologies.
“I have reflected on this incident and shall be more vigilant in future,” Mr. Au, the immigration director, said in a statement on Friday.
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Mr. Au had already been fined last year for breaching social distancing rules at a hot-pot dinner in March.
In other news from around the globe:
A leading immunologist in Italy has been put under police protection after receiving a bullet and death threats to her and her family, as she advocated for vaccinating children against Covid on national television and in the press. “These people are the No-Vaxxers who can only hate, reject logic and laws and create tension and violence,” Antonella Viola, the director of a pediatric research institute in the northern city of Padua, wrote on Facebook. Last month, the Italian authorities started vaccinating children from 5 to 11 years old, and have so far administered one shot to 12.5 percent of them. Unvaccinated Italians, a small but vocal minority, have been progressively singled out by national restrictions.
North Korea said on Friday that it would not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic and moves by “hostile forces.” The no-show will deprive South Korea of the rare opportunity it had anticipated to establish official contact with the North.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and state governors agreed on Friday that those who are fully vaccinated, or recovered, should be able to access restaurants and bars only if they can present a new negative test for the virus. No tests will be required for the nearly half of the adult population with booster doses. Those who are not vaccinated or recovered haven’t been allowed into restaurants or bars since the end of November.
Israel is reopening its skies this weekend after barring the entry of most foreign travelers in late November to try to delay the entry and spread of Omicron. Starting Sunday, fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed into the country. Israelis may also travel anywhere abroad after the government scrapped its “red list” of countries with high rates of contagion, including the United States and Britain. Continuing the restrictions made little sense, officials said, given the surge in infection rates inside Israel, where the number of daily verified cases is at a pandemic high.
Greece ordered private-sector doctors on Friday to help public hospitals in four regions in northern Greece, which are struggling because of staff shortages and an increase in Covid patients. The order said the services of specialists in pathology, pulmonology and anesthesiology would be requisitioned for 15 days, starting Wednesday, but it did not specify how many doctors will receive orders.
New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, reported a record 38,625 new cases on Friday, and banned dancing and singing in pubs and nightclubs, and postponed elective surgeries until mid-February.